By J. M. Bellew
On leaving Laodicea, the next of the seven churches of Asia which present itself to our is Philadelphia. Were we to travel as the map would suggest, we should go direct to the seaboard and Ephesus, which would merely be journeying from ruin to ruin, from desolation to another scene of desolation, between which localities there is no ordinary communication. No doubt in ancient days Ephesus was the port of Laodicea, but had the latter city survived the ravages of the Turks, it would have been obliged to seek some other outlet for its staple trade, as the retiring sea has long since destroyed the port of Ephesus. For many centuries Smyrna has been the port from which the commerce or the interior has been shipped; while between it and Aleppo there is a road, and a, caravan travels starting from Smyrna, this highway passes through several of the seven churches, touching first of all at Sardis, next at Philadelphia, and then, winding through the mountains by Laodicea and Colossae traverses the southern hills, and proceeds towards Aleppo.
When we speak of roads in Asia Minor, the English mind must not conjure up before its imagination such highways as we are accustomed to in Europe, and particularly in England–smooth as a carpet, and often as direct as a Roman causeway. The bridleways that prevailed in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I or those narrow bits of old lanes in Kent, in which are still identified traces of the path followed by the Canterbury pilgrims, would convey a much more correct, though far too flattering, idea of what is called a road in Asia Minor. Such road is not a road at all in the European sense of the word, but may more properly be compared to a cart track over our downs, or a well rutted lane in the midst or fields. The ruts in the East, it must be understood, are not formed by wheels, because in the interior there is no cart traffic whatever. All land carriage is conducted on the backs of camels, and the highways indicated in the plains, or the trough like, lines of way upon the mountains, have been worn by the feet of these patient porters of Turkish commerce. Miserable as the so called “roads” are, it is necessary to follow them, and therefore on leaving Laodicea (described in our issue of January), and taking the road with the caravan, we necessarily arrive next at Philadelphia.
A very singular and very mistaken idea prevails among Europeans regarding the seven churches of Asia. They seem to think that they are all ruined cities. So opposed to the truth is this notion, that four out of the seven are still thriving; and one of the four–Smyrna–is a most busy seaport. Philadelphia cannot put forth any claim to rival Smyrna, but nevertheless it boasts of a population of fifteen thousand, and contains within its walls more than three thousand Turkish residences, and upwards of three hundred Greek families. Properly to understand the appearance of this place it is necessary to direct the reader’s attention to the map of Asia Minor. In our former article it will be remembered that we gave a harried glance to the neighboring city of Hierapolis –that marvelous series of ruins stretching out upon the sides of the lofty chain of Messogis.
The range of Messogis, rising to the east of ancient Ephesus, runs directly eastward for some eighty mites, and then bends in a northeasterly direction. But before this natural curve occurs, a bite in the mountains to the north of Laodicea opens to the caravans a natural course for the roadway to follow. Through this bite, or pass, the caravans between Smyrna and Aleppo take their way. Reversing the route, and going towards Smyrna, we must suppose ourselves traversing this pass and, emerging from it, to be leaving the Messogis behind us towards the south; we then open upon a plain through which glides the inconsiderable stream of the river Cayster, finding its way to the ocean through the site of Ephesus itself. Beyond us we see another lofty range of hills, ruled across the country with remarkable straightness, and cutting in from west to east, rising near the seaboard behind the port of Smyrna. This range, famous in history and in mythological story, is called Mount Tmolus. As we pass from the Messogis, its eastern extremities face us, and our route carries us beneath their spurs. Winding round them, we come to another and very extensive plain, bounded by these natural walls upon the, south, and defended towards the north by the course of the famous river Hermus; while, towards the east, we observe that the plain terminates in a vast, desolate, cineritious tract of country, known as the Catakekaumene, or the “burned land.” This district, stretching between the Hermus on the north, and the eastern extremities of Messogis on the east, covering a tract of country sixtytwo miles long and about fifty broad, presents the same sort of aspect that is familiar to “Overland” passengers in the neighborhood of the coaling depot, at Aden. It has been scorched up by the violence of volcanic action; and though the Plutonic fires have centuries ago been quenched, and the land delivered from the dread overthrows to which it was continually subjected, nevertheless the contiguity of region to the burning furnaces which once vomited forth their earthquakes and their flames is too apparent in the desolation which remains, and the scorched lava‑like nature of the ground appropriately denominated Catakekaumene.
Philadelphia, in too close proximity to this fiercely ravaged district, was a continual sufferer in the convulsive visitations of nature. So great were the terrors they created, that it seems probable the Philadelphian people of the higher classes, like, the more opulent of our city merchants in the present day, merely came into the town for the transaction of business during the day, and betook themselves at evening to villa residences upon the neighboring hills, which, in their elevation, afforded it safer home and more secure repose than the adjacent and perpetually threatened plain. By referring to the map, it will be seen that the range of Mount Tmolus pursues a course almost directly eastward from Smyrna; and, as we have before stated, a vast plain stretches out beneath its feet towards the north, through which flows the classic “Flumen Hermus.”
At the eastern extremity of this plain, and seated upon three or four of the lower slopes of the Tmolus, stands Philadelphia, near the southern bank of one of the tributary streams of the Hermus called the Cogamus. The town is enclosed in ancient walls, almost square in plan, and is embossed with trees, among which rise the shafts of five minarets. It lies about sixty eight miles east of Smyrna and about twenty eight from Sardis, which, being also seated in the valley of the Hermus, may be said to be a “halfway house” between Smyrna and Philadelphia. The views from elevated points above the town upon the Tmolus are grand in the extreme gardens and vineyards lying at the back and sides of the walls, while before it stretches one of the, most extensive and naturally luxuriant plains in Asia. At the present moment the traveler vainly looks for and sighs for that luxuriance which alone appears upon the banks of the Hermus and the Cogamus. It is not only here, but everywhere throughout Asia, that this disappointment is experienced, and consequently the richness of foliage and verdure is only seen where rivers or rills compel luxuriance, despite the apathy of the Turkish people. Anciently even the district of the Catakekaumene was covered with vines, and was the locality in which, according to the, stories of the poets, the monster Typho was overthrown by the lightnings of Jupiter. Among the gardens and vineyards which adorn the declivities of Mount Tmolus, the remains of ruins are in several places discernible, more especially upon one hill which overhangs the town, on which stood the ancient Acropolis. On mounting this hill to examine its remains, the antiquary finds himself disappointed, for there is not a trace of building belonging either to the ancient or even to the Lower Empire. Such ruins as remain are entirely of Turkish construction.
We have spoken of the want of vegetation–in other words, of industry and agricultural enterprise among the Turks. It needs no more than a glance at the Valley of the Hermus to be convinced of the luxuriance that spread broadcast therein the classic ages. The eye, as it dwells upon the spreading panorama, is ready to credit all the historical and poetic pictures that have been drawn of the now desolated scene! It must not, however, be supposed that the Turk totally neglects all kinds of agricultural pursuits, but he is thoroughly utilitarian. He grows tobacco, cultivates vineyards, and rears fields of poppies for opium.
As we have already stated, Philadelphia is situated about sixty-eight miles, English, to the east of Smyrna, and is commonly approached from Smyrna, passing through the intermediate town of Sardis. We have already described the character of the country on traveling towards it from the south, i.e. from Laodicea, through the pass of Messogis. When approached by way of Sardis, the road follows a little chain of hills that overhang the river Hermus, composed entirely of sand and alluvial deposit. The magnificence of the superb plain or valley of the Hermus is at present much deteriorated by the want of that cultivation whose luxuriance won for it, from the pen of Homer, the title of “the Asian Meadow:” amongst the lush grass of which meadow Dionysius tells us you might hear the cranes and swans making the marshes echo with their noise, as they sat in the spring time enjoying the coolness of the many rills pouring down from the Tmolus, and seeking their extinction in the flowing Hermus. The swans that sang within the brake have vanished with the distant centuries, but the cranes still survive, and may be seen, like gaunt sentinels, keeping guard upon the shattered walls of Philadelphia. The summits of these ancient walls are entirely surrendered to these birds, who build their huge nest upon them, and make them “the habitation of the stork.”
On leaving Sardis, having followed the course of the Hermus for some twenty seven miles, we arrive in front of the town of Philadelphia, spreading out upon the slopes of three or four hills, or lower spurs of the Tmolus, all situated between that mountain range and the river. Philadelphia is now known by the name Alla Sher, or the “City of God;” its walls, broken through in many places, being as nearly as possible square. The stream Cogamus, which flows past the town, a tributary of the Hermus, affords water particularly suitable for the purposes of dyeing, and in consequence Philadelphia is much frequented by Armenian merchants.
On approaching the town, its extreme picturesqueness of situation is exceedingly striking; but like most Turkish cities, distance lends enchantment to the view, and close inspection renders it extremely offensive in its prevailing filth. When we come near to Philadelphia, it is quickly apparent that we are doomed to disappointment, if we expect to trace out remains of the city referred to in the Apocalypse.
Philadelphia is as barren of, as Laodicea is rich in, antique building. On a close examination of the walls, the writer was speedily convinced that their construction could not possibly date further back than the thirteenth or fourteenth century; and to fix this date is to give to a great proportion of them (in all probability) a respectability of age to which they have no claim. There is one only remnant of antiquity in these walls, which is a gateway, crowned with an arch in high sculptured relief, the architectural details of which are distinctly of the Byzantine style. With this exception, we do not find in Philadelphia any other piece of building worthy or remark; although the resident Greeks point to a high stone wall, surmounted by a brick arch, which they have the confidence to assert is a remnant of the Church of the Apocalypse–a statement which it is perhaps unnecessary for the European to contradict, seeing that the arches are in themselves the most complete contradictions. In the same way, in one of their churches, the Greeks point to a particular pillar, which they assert is that alIuded to by St. John (Rev. iii. 12); but as the pillar spoken of by him was spiritual, and not part of any temple built with hands, we only smile at the ignorant tradition attaching to this particular column.
The question necessarily arises in the mind, “How does it happen that Philadelphia is so completely stripped of the architecture which adorned it in the time of the Empire, and that not one building, or even fragment of a building, of any importance, has survived?” The only satisfactory way of answering the inquiry, is to attribute the wholesale work of destruction to earthquake. There is certainly nothing in the history of the place, in the sieges or calamities it sustained, to account for the marvelously complete work of destruction which has occurred within its walls. Its proximity to the ravaged district of the Catekekaumene, and the devastating earthquakes which were nursed in the fiery bosom of that region, seem to provide us with the real causes of its architectural obliteration.
The ancient city was founded by Attalus Philadelplus, king of Pergamos, brother of Eumenes, who died B.C. 138. John Ducas, the Greek general, to whom Laodicea submitted, took Philadelphia and Sardis by assault in A.D. 1097. Again, under the same emperor, it was reduced in 1106. Shortly afterwards the Turks, marching from the east, designed to plunder it and the maritime towns. In the year 1300, when the conquests of the Sultan Aladin came to be divided, Philadelphia fell to the lot of Karaman. In 1306 the town was besieged, by Alisuras, who greatly distressed it, but at once retired on the approach of the Roman legions to its relief. At various periods throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Philadelphians, who held the Turks in contempt, showed their prowess, but never more signally than when this town alone, in all the district of Lydia, refused to stoop before the feet of the conquering Bajazet, and determined to withstand his siege. It was only when the Philadelphians were reduced by the ravages of famine, that they consented to capitulate. And let it be said in its honor, that it was the last town of Asia Minor which capitulated to the Turks–not until after a six years’ protracted siege, when the direst famine laid done its work, and the beleaguered place could no longer hold out: then Bajazet marched into its streets–the conqueror of living specters, and the master of a city of the dead.
About a mile and a half outside the town there is still shown a wall, which is pointed out as a monument of the siege of Philadelphia built, as it is said, of the bones of the Christians who, in 1391, resisted the invading Turk. The wall is shown as the trophy of Bajazet’s revenge. It certainly appears to be built of bones, but whether the effect produced upon the eye results from similar petrifying effects to those described in our former article as existing at Heliopolis, and thereby an ossified appearance has been produced, or whether the wall was really built of bones, seems to be a disputed point. No traveler has had the curiosity to bring a fragment of this wall to England for chemical examination, therefore the point remains to the present moment undecided.
When it was said above, that no ancient buildings of importance remain to identify the Philadelphia of the Apocalypse, it must not be supposed that there are no remains whatever of the classical and early Christian ages. Several evidences of the days of Roman occupation may, by a careful eye, be picked out among the walls of Turkish houses, and several ancient sarcophagi may be detected in common use as watering troughs. There is also a very ancient Necropolis, in which large antique crosses are found sculptured upon the tombs. It would be difficult, perhaps, to assign them an age; but it may with confidence be said that they belong to a very distant period, and mark the graves of the Christians of Philadelphia in the centuries which preceded the final surrender of the town to Turkish domination.
Modern Philadelphia is the seat of an Archdiocese, the Archbishop’s palace receiving from the resident Greeks the name of the “Metropollis”–strongly reminding the English traveler of the name “metropolitan,” commonly applied to our Archbishop. In the town there exist twenty-five so called Christian churches. Service is confined to five out of the twenty five. Indeed, the other buildings are hardly worthy of the name “church,” and for any church purposes are absolutely useless. They are mean structures, in which at some time Christian service may have been celebrated. The Church of St. John, which was of course the most venerated of all the churches has, like that at Damascus, been seized upon by the Turks, and converted into a mosque. The principal edifice now in possession of the Greeks is dedicated to the Virgin Mary–the worship of the Panagia, the ever pure and holy, as she is denominated, having from very early ages been one of the fondest and deepest religious feelings of the Greeks. There is little doubt that the Greek veneration of the Panagia grew out of the old heathen idolatry of Venus and that the worship of woman incarnated in the Virgin was the reproduction upon the Christian platform of the same inclination of human nature, as was illustrated in the Grecian mythology in the personal adoration of Venus. One of the most sacred and deeply rooted points of belief among the Greeks is the perpetual purity and virginity of the Mother of our Lord. His brethren and his sisters are not allowed in their creed to be regarded as bearing the common relationship to him which the language of the people of Nazareth might imply. To the Greek mind it is an abomination and an outrage to hint a doubt regarding the perpetual virginity of the Panagia–the ever pure mother of our Lord. It is impossible to help respecting the tenacity of their belief upon this question, or to help seeing that it takes a most important place in their worship. Their reverence for the Panagia is a romance as well as a worship, and enlists all the enthusiasm of an imaginative people. With them, and even with their priests, it will not bear discussion. Discussion would imply a doubt, and they would as soon tolerate discussion on the divinity of Christ as on the everlasting virginity of the Panagia. European missionaries have occasionally, and in singularly bad taste, endeavored to wrestle in argument with the Greek priests upon this tenet of their Church, but to no purpose. A very curious comparison between the Greek and Christian adoration of woman, in the persons of the Virgin Mary and Venus, might be drawn; and it might be shown how the details of heathen ceremonial were borrowed to engraft upon the Eastern Christian rites. The subject is too extensive for present elaboration; but it is desirable that it should be alluded to, and also borne in remembrance by any one purposing to travel in Asia Minor.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia extends to Sardis on the west, and to Laodicea on the southeast ; but neither the suffragan bishops, nor the priesthood, are so numerous as might be expected, although both the church and the Greeks themselves are at the present time decidedly, though slowly, increasing and developing. Of late years–perhaps through Russian intrigue–there has been a freshened and more vital power exhibited among them, in proportion as the Turkish lethargy became more and more deep and intense.
The Metropolis–i.e. the palace of the Archbishop–extends its simple hospitality to all travelers who carry with them proper letters of introduction to that dignitary, who is, in the proper and simple sense of the term, “the bishop and pastor of his flock.” It is impossible to contemplate this town and its Christian church, and to recall the historical fact that Christianity, reigned here, when it had declined elsewhere in Asia Minor, without emotion. When St. John wrote from Patmos it was the purest of all the churches of Asia, and whatever the, stains it may have since contracted, it demands our reverence as a living, thriving church still. “Thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation,” are words that have had a singular and literal fulfillment. Even Gibbon was constrained to quote the passage, and to give his witness to its truth. “At a distance from, the sea, forgotten by the Emperor, encompassed on all sides by the Turks, her valiant citizens defended their religious freedom above fourscore years, and at length capitulated with the proudest of the Ottomans in 1390. Among the Greek colonies and churches of Asia, Philadelphia is still erect–a column in a scene of ruins–a pleasing example that the paths of honor and safety may sometimes be the same.”